WASHINGTON – When President Obama became the first president to nominate a woman to head the Federal Reserve, he elevated Janet Yellen to a global position of influence that shows how wide the gap remains for women to achieve equal representation in positions of power.
If Yellen is confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first female chairman of the Fed and also may soon be, temporarily at least, the only woman on the Fed board of governors. Fed Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin has been nominated by Obama as deputy Treasury secretary, which would make her the highest-ranking woman in Treasury history. Elizabeth Duke left the central bank at the end of August.
As the successor to Ben Bernanke, who began the first of his two terms as chairman in 2006 when he was 52, the 67-year-old Yellen would become the 15th head of the U.S. central bank since its inception in 1913.
Yellens selection is a huge step in the right direction, said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of the womens advocacy group Ultraviolet. At the same time, the administration reflects the under-representation of women in top leadership positions in the country, in government and the private sector.
Women make up more than half of the U.S. electorate and they gave Obama 55 percent of their votes in 2012, propelling his re-election, exit polls showed. That raised expectations that women would ascend the ranks of his administration.
Of 23 cabinet and cabinet-level posts under Obama currently, six are held by women. Thats down from eight at the end of his first term with departures of female department heads, most recently Janet Napolitano at the Homeland Security Department and Karen Mills at the Small Business Administration.
By comparison, women occupied about a quarter of cabinet-level positions in President George W. Bushs administration. The peak was 41 percent of those posts during President Bill Clintons tenure, according to data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The White House staff has more reflected the nations gender balance with women making up about half of the almost 500 employees, according to a 2011 report to Congress.
Yet men still dominate the top ranks.